Opinion | Hubris And Humiliation: The Contradictions Of A Feudal Modernizer

Forget about all the grammar and prognostications. Character is fate. In the end, nothing could have captured the tragedy of Lamido Sanusi with gripping accuracy and more arresting simplicity than the old saying of the ancient Greeks. There are certain aspects of our character which lead us inexorably to a certain fate.

What you are going to be and what will become of you are already determined by the ineluctable law of genetic inheritance. There is little room for manoeuvre in this iron cage of immutability. As the Arab saying goes, to flee your fate is to rush to find it. A man is always a prisoner of his own peculiar peccadilloes.

This is what has just played out with his royal Eminence, Muhammad Sanusi II, the Emir of Kano, and with the good people of the heaving metropolis and fabled terminus of the ancient trans-Saharan route which led all the way to Baghdad. In the early hours of Monday, 9th March, fate called out on the 14th Fulani emir in the lonely splendour of his palatial abode. It was the end of a short, turbulent and explosive reign lasting six eventful years.

For the colourful and controversial descendant of Fulani ancestors, it was a royal red card flashed with the awesome paraphernalia of the Nigerian post-colonial state. In the unstable dynamics of the post-colonial nation, the smiling state agent of the day before would have transformed into the stern state enforcer of the new dawn. Lamido and his dynastic clan have been beneficiaries of its legendary and perverse largesse, now he was at the receiving end of its impregnable and implacable malice.

The impersonal terror machine that is the Nigerian post-colonial state often acts with abstract rigour and equal opportunity bravura. As we noted, the Sanusi royal lineage has been a beneficiary of its munificence and malevolence. It was said that when the late Lawal Isa Kaita arrived at the Prime-minister’s lodge to acquaint Sir Tafawa Balewa of the Sardauna’s decision to dethrone and banish the old emir and Lamido’s grandfather, the latter’s plea of caution, tact and restraint fell on deaf ears.

Rumour also has it that it was Lamido Sanusi’s father, Ambassador Aminu, a courtly diplomat with calm admirable manners, that was pencilled down to take over as Governor of the Central Bank by the Murtala administration. “Give it to Ciroma”, the tempestuous Kano warlord was known to have blurted out. But due to garbled transmission, the Ciroma of Kano was mistaken for Adamu Ciroma. And that was that.

Yet despite our deep reservations about his person and posturing, this column will refuse to gloat over the fate of the deposed king. Certain perceptive readers of this column have drawn our attention to the “brilliant clairvoyance” with which it predicted the end at the very beginning.

But there is no joy in being proved right particularly where it has to do with a Shakespearean tragedy of epic proportions and with a potentially great person brought low by his own foibles. However that may be, there are important lessons to be learnt by both royal clan and hegemonic feudal nationality.

Too much hubris and haughtiness, too much devotion to excessive personal vanity and immature self-lionization prevented the deposed emir from focusing on the ball rather than the swooning adulation of the fickle crowd of impotent admirers who could not lift a finger for him as the final confrontation unfolded. For them, rather than the arrival of the twelfth imam, it was a mere play of giants which does not accommodate audience input.

But now that Lamido has been removed, the feudal contradictions which he drew attention to in his own ungainly, self-righteous and opportunistic way and which eventually consumed him will not go away in all its fetid and festering anomalies. Rather than set to work with quiet grit and gruelling determination, Lamido simply laid on the glitz and glamour of royal appurtenances on a decaying feudal order. He was too much of a royal feudalist to be a genuine modernizer. The contradiction ensured fatality.

Napoleon Bonaparte famously noted that a throne is only a bench covered with damask. The Sicilian brigand should know. After the French famously discarded their royalty in a horror film of grisly beheading, the great warlord simply collected the crown and made himself emperor through sheer daring and the audacity of artillery. It was the first formal coup d’etat in the history of modern Europe.

But after his hubris and audacity finally ran their course in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon found himself a prisoner of war, banished from his throne and exiled to the lonely, isolated British island fortress St Helena to begin a new life. He never returned or recovered the military initiative. His hitherto swooning and adulating compatriots simply took it in their stride.

It has been advanced by military historians that the lesser genius prevailed at the Battle of Waterloo. But that was because the greater genius had by then squandered and frittered away all his military, political and strategic advantages through sheer recklessness and unrelenting brinkmanship.

On an ordinary day, Authur Wellesley, latterly the Duke of Wellington, ought not to be a match for Napoleon’s glittering gifts but he ended up supervising his military and political defenestration. As a British wag would later put, the Battle of Waterloo was won and lost on the playground of Eton College.

With little modification, it will be said of the deposed emir that he also played into the hands of people he held in utter disdain as intellectual inferiors and upstarts from the slums of Kano metropolis through his reckless bravado and lack of strategic deftness. They simply sat back, watching him commit one unforced error after the other until it was time to deliver the terminal sucker punch.

Lamido was simply too voluble, too loquacious for his own good and for the good of the feudal order he was supposed to personalize. He talked too much. This is the problem with those endorsing him from the perspectives of their own subliminal cultural affinities. The feudal throne is not a Travelling Theatre.

The archetypal feudal baron is the epitome of icy reserve and glacial imperturbability. But not so Muhammad Sanusi 11. There was a hint of psychological instability, of inner turmoil, of disordered childishness and of the vengeful irascibility of someone with royal scores to settle even within his own larger feudal clan.

Real feudal slights and imagined royal condescension might have hurt him as a youth and it was obvious that he had never lived down the banishment of his grandfather. The northern feudal establishment is indeed a smouldering cauldron of envy, resentment and mutual hate even among descendants of the same royal lineage. As it has been the case with the Sokoto caliphate itself, so has it been with Kano, Gwandu, Katsina and Suleija.

Perhaps it should be added that this is the brutal hallmark of the feudal mode of political production anywhere in the world. The collapse of a particular royal line either through self-immolation or state assisted suicide is usually an occasion for savage intrigues and bloodfest among brothers and siblings.

His wiser royal brethren in the larger northern Nigerian feudal community would have viewed Lamido’s antics with great apprehension and consternation. For them, the social hell-raising of the former emir could only end in radical anarchy which would have consumed everybody since he possessed neither the military might to impose his will nor the political wherewithal to dominate his environment. However uncivil to the authorities, he remained a civil servant.

It is a fundamental contradiction for a person duly crowned as emir to transform overnight into a radical revolutionary. If he was so minded, Lamido should have availed himself of another route to power and prominence. In his later years as a politician, global statesman and former revolutionary, it was only Nelson Mandela’s courtly manners and refined royal bearing which reminded people that as a youthful prince, he was groomed to assume a position of power and authority in the tribal kingdom of his people.

This whole Katakata in Kano, Lamido’s feudal detractors would have grunted, was nothing but a classic example of grandstanding and fancy footwork steeped in hypocrisy and bad faith. How many of the so called Almajiris who mill around the outermost perimeter of his well-appointed palace did he bother to send back to school? In any case, why didn’t he dispose of his state of the art Rolls Royce and all the gaudy accoutrements of royal glitz in order to fraternize with them or commence the process of their rehabilitation?

At the end of the day, the former emir remains very much a feudalist at heart with occasional tipping nod in the direction of revolutionary rhetoric and radical hell-raising. It was the tormenting contradictions that would eventually unhorse him. Call no person happy and fulfilled until they have been able to live down the legion of contradictions that beset them in all their howling furies.

What remains to be said is the fact that whatever Lamido’s imperfections and the improper way and manner he went about things, the social and political contradictions of a feudal north trapped in medieval self-denial remains very much with us. Nigeria is a country in which a decaying feudal order is beset and besieged on all sides by forces furiously yearning for modernization and the political reconfiguration of the nation.

If President Mohammadu Buhari wants to take a measure of just how unsustainable this arrangement has become, he should go no further than study the outpouring of grief and disaffection of his compatriots emanating from the media outlets on a daily basis.

Many of them are barely restrained and it is obvious that many sectors of the nation are no longer willing to put up with the impertinence of a privileged elite group that relies on the political and economic retardation of the country for the maintenance of an anomalous status quo.

Once again, this column restates the fact that to help it out of its misery, the north needs the help of sympathetic outsiders from analogous cultures who view things from historical perspectives rather than through the prism of ethnic or tribal malevolence. This was the original thinking behind the formation of the APC before the whole thing was hijacked.

The tragic irony of our situation is the fact that the more we try to hide from it, the more it thumps us in the face. That political retardation is very much evident in the process that led to the banishment of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi after his dethronement. It is straight out of the colonial museum of atrocities which has no place in a modern nation.

No one is sure of what transpired between the federal authorities in the hours and days preceding the dethronement and summary banishment. General Buhari runs a Law and Order administration. There are overwhelming security reasons for removing the deposed emir from the Kano vicinity.

But for the federal authorities to insist that they had no hand in the banishment is stretching the fabric of state fabrications beyond its elastic limits. Dethronement should not be accompanied by penal banishment. Where does Governor Abdullahi Ganduje derive the authority to banish the ill-fated former emir to a remote outpost well beyond his state and suzerainty from? Is he now the Governor General of the entire north?

While Nigerians mull over what to do with the terror and the unitary malevolence of the post-colonial state as a matter of national emergency, we should refrain from fuelling its excesses. Now that the authorities have granted the deposed emir some restricted freedom, the offensive clause that underwrites the banishment of free citizens of Nigeria must be expunged from our constitution.

  • This article by Tatalo Alamu originally appeared in The Nation newspaper.